During the 2016 campaign and beyond, the National Enquirer was regularly sending early copies of Trump-related stories to the president’s attorney Michael Cohen before publishing them, three unnamed sources close to the matter told the Washington Post. The tabloid reportedly even let Cohen kill pieces he thought would negatively affect Trump or positively affect his opponents.
The practice of sending sources stories before they’re published is more than unusual — it’s frowned upon in the journalism community. In this case, the editors’ willingness shows the strength of the relationship between Trump and longtime friend David Pecker, chief executive of American Media Inc. (AMI), the Enquirer’s parent company.
AMI also reportedly paid former Playboy model Karen McDougal $150,000 for her story about an alleged affair with Trump in 2006 and then decided not to publish the story at all, in a possible instance of the tabloid-industry tactic known as "catch and kill." On Thursday, Manhattan federal prosecutors subpoenaed the publisher for information regarding that payment, the Wall Street Journal reported.
“Since Trump’s become president, and even before, [Pecker] openly just has been willing to turn the magazine and the cover over to the Trump machine,” one person with knowledge of the practice told the Washington Post, which published its story Thursday night.
“If it was a story specifically about Trump, then it was sent over to Michael, and as long as there were no objections from him, the story could be published,” the anonymous source added.
Cohen, Pecker, and Trump’s current lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, did not respond to requests from the Washington Post for comment, but the National Enquirer and AMI vehemently denied any wrongdoing.
“We made a very public endorsement of Trump,” Dylan Howard, the Enquirer's chief content officer, told the Post. “So it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for me to commission stories on his opponents given that we had endorsed Donald Trump. And that’s what I did.” The tabloid's weekly circulation is 250,000 and it has an audience of 5 million viewers a week.
"It is unfortunate and disconcerting that disgruntled and terminated ex-employees who had no access to how editorial decisions are made and without any access to the company’s top executives have been given a platform — hiding behind the protection of being an 'anonymous source' — to grind their axe on the back of their former employer," an American Media spokesperson told CNN.
But according to the Post’s report, the tabloid would wait for a response from Cohen before publishing the story, allotting Trump the benefit of reviewing the news his voters would see the next day.
“As long as there were no objections from him, the story could be published,” a source told the newspaper.
Howard denied that, too, according to the Post.
“We do not run or kill stories at the behest of politicians, even if they are the president of the United States,” Howard told the Post.
Cover image: Michael Cohen leaves federal court in New York City. Criminal investigators are finally getting to study materials seized in raids on the home and office of President Donald Trump's personal lawyer, Cohen, on April 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)